From Mexico City, producer Nico is an artist clearly engrossed in his work. His music presents a unique intricacy that speaks of his deeply personal approach to production. A collage of mesmeric drones, distorted vocals and experimental forays into club-styled rhythms, his productions are driven by an unceasing search for that one track that he can’t quite put his finger on.
Refusing to build concrete frameworks into his tracks, or place his ideas into boxes so to speak, Nico’s way with music sees him lining up alongside some of the finest contemporary artists in electronic music today. His first releases having appeared on Timedance, Mothers Finest and Midnight Shift.
His new EP ‘Six Rooms’ ventures back into the aural spaces first explored in 2013 under his White Visitation alias. It’s also the first release on his newly launched label, Akita Club, blurring boundaries between club and home listening. We sat down with Nico, albeit virtually and across continents. Digging further into the mind of this distinctive emerging talent.
Let’s begin by finding out where it all started for you. Was there a particular trigger, or a specific moment that sparked your interest in electronic music?
I used to play in a rock band, like everybody did when they were thirteen. Then I guess we all started listening to Nine Inch Nails. I think the record I listened to the most was the first one, which was just the most cheesy, synthy one, but I think it’s probably the best one! I also remember Massive Attack and the third Björk record. We just listened to everything and I guess a part of it was in electronic music.
DJ Shadow Entroducing was huge for me and it was also around the time when trip hop was big. It was very, very much not dance music at all, even though it was electronic music. I think a lot of that really comes out on the new record, it tries to reach back into a lot of my early experiences of electronic music.
Your previous releases under Nico slot quite comfortably into ideas of how a club track might sound. But with Six Rooms, it feels as though you’re moving away from this. As a record it feels less binary – the first track, Mediata, is a heady ambient track, while tracks like Drops and Elkanah Settle sit more obviously beside the Nico we’ve heard previously. Is that something you were consciously trying to do with this release?
I guess the only Nico thing that’s come out so far is the Timedance track ‘Soft Opening’ on the Patina Echoes compilation from 2018, it’s a little more immediate – a DJ record. And the other one was a collaboration with Jake [Hodge], that was like, full on. It’s a weird track, but it’s still a club record.
So ‘Six Rooms’ is maybe going back into a record that’s meant for home, in the most immediate sense. But also, going back to that house that you used to know before – you kind of forgot about for a minute, and then finding these new six rooms that you hadn’t seen before.
The idea of this aural space is something you first explored in your 2013 Tapes, produced under your White Visitation alias. Can you tell us a little more about the Tapes, and their connection to the music you’re making now?
I didn’t conceive White Visitation to become my own alias. I thought it was a good name for something like a label. It was going to be a series of tapes, not only by me, but with other people putting out tapes. In the end, I guess I just kind of ran with it as an alias but regretted it forever. When I started making this record [Six Rooms], I feel like I started kind of circling back to a lot of things. You think you’re trying to break new ground for yourself, or you’re really going out in your explorations. Then you end up realising that really, you’ve been trying to make the same track for the last ten years. That was really interesting to figure out while making this record. I’ve always loved that feeling of the record being this space that you can inhabit for a minute. Every track kind of has its own separate personality, but it feels like a part of a whole. That’s a very important thing for me when I’m making music.
So you’ve realised that you’re always reaching after this one, ideal track? Can you put your finger on this track that you’re aiming towards?
I think it’s just like this one platonic track. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a moment where I’m going to be like, “yeah, this track nailed everything. I did everything that I wanted to do with this track”. I’m really happy with this record because I feel like these six tracks kind of do that. They’re different aspects of the same basic idea, which I think is very personal and can’t really be put into words, which is why I make music instead of another medium.
That’s the advantage of music like this. There’s these very intangible ideas or feelings that you might have, and music lends itself best to communicating these things, because it’s so ethereal itself. That’s why I don’t really like attaching very concrete concepts or narratives to music. I think when you try to make music about something that’s very specific, it kind of loses this really beautiful vagueness that it can have, where anyone can attach whatever meaning they want to it to a certain degree.
I don’t think there’s this ideal track that I could describe, in formal terms, it’s just this very vague idea that you try to explore with every track. I read an interview a really good friend of mine did where he said that a lot of the music that he hears, sounds like an idiot in a room making plans. And that was really, really scary for me to read because he’s incredible. He’s an amazing producer. And I was like, I hope my music doesn’t ever sound like an idiot in a room making plans!
When you’re producing music, is there a moment when you actively decide to make a “club track” or something else?
It’s not a decision I make before. It all just kind of happens naturally. I think for a track to be effective in the club it has to be very reduced, and every element has to be there for maximum impact. It’s not really about storytelling or ambience or whatever. There is a little bit of that, but I think for the most part, it’s just like having a very limited number of elements that have maximum effect.
It’s very hard for me to restrain myself and do that, because I always keep adding elements in search of depth. I have this tendency to ornament. I think that they’re very contrasting pursuits – one kind of cancels out the other. If you have a really rich, layered, deep track, it’s probably not going to be the best thing for the club. And the other way around as well. This is obviously not a hard, fast rule, some people are incredible at achieving both.
I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about how you formed the idea for your new label, Akita Club. I understand that you developed the idea, in part, through your residency at Mexico City’s Yu Yu Club?
I wanted to do a long night. Something that happens here a lot is you see huge, huge lineups for a night that’s not going to end that late. So everybody gets to play one hour sets at most or 45 minutes, which is ridiculous. I really wanted to do the opposite.
I had already been playing Yu Yu for a while, so I asked them if they’d be up for having me play the whole night, which is maybe five or six hours. I’d never really felt like I had a place where I could do something like that or felt like I had that kind of freedom. Then I’d have guests every once in a while, like friends or people that I knew nobody else is going to book.
The plan was to start a label out of that. Then obviously the pandemic happened and forced my hand into doing that first. I’m excited for it because the other factor was, I just make so much music, and I was really frustrated with the whole label apparatus and process. I just kind of tried to sidestep that and try to do it on my own.
So you enjoy having the freedom that comes with self-releasing?
There’s just no reason to not do it. It’s just so much more immediate. I’m always really concerned about when you’re working with a label, and you’re like “so what do you have in mind for the artwork?”, and they have this really rigid idea. it’s like, what does this have to do with music? I just really appreciate the immediacy and the control over putting out my own music, deciding who’s going to master it, too. Which is cool, because Joshua Eustis, the guy that does Telefon Tel Aviv, mastered it. When I was 16, I was obsessed with Telefon Tel Aviv! So that was another instance of things just coming full circle.
You spoke earlier about how important it is to you for each track on a release to mesh together nicely. Is this the same for Akita Club as a label, and as an ongoing project? Do you have a kind of overarching narrative in mind?
There isn’t this overt narrative for any of the releases or for the label. But I guess the narrative ends up becoming your life? It’s much more this nebulous, intangible, personal thing. In lockdown, I started reading Montaigne and also reading a little about him. He was always tweaking and editing what he’d already published years before. I think it’s really interesting how his work shaped who he was, as a person, but also how it worked in both directions, where his book ended up shaping the person that he became. I think that’s what happens when your practice is serious enough and you’re involved enough with your practice, you discover who you are and become somebody different through the work itself.
That’s a really interesting connection to draw there with Montaigne. This notion of a body of work being something in constant flux, fits really nicely with what we discussed earlier when we spoke about your approach to making Six Rooms. This idea that you can continually remodel and reshape your earlier work, like going back and editing an old essay, refiguring it to fit a new context.
Yeah, if the release isn’t really beholden to plastic anymore, or it’s not really being fixed in any physical media, what’s really stopping you from going back and editing it? Most people are listening to Spotify, so you can just take that down and put another one up. When Kanye West was doing Pablo, I think he said, “yeah, the record is done”, and he released it. And then there were like seven different versions where he’d add a vocal in one of the tracks or something like that. You can think whatever you want about Kanye West but I thought that was really interesting.
You’ve been involved in quite a few collaborative projects over the years. Six Rooms features Brian Allen Simon on clarinet, as well as vocals by Joaquina Mertz. Can you tell me more about the nature of these collaborations?
Joaquina’s vocals were kind of an involuntary collaboration because I was working on this groove and then she posted an Instagram story – she was singing basically solo, just with a little piano – I recorded her Instagram story and threw it on the track. I only told her about it later. I was really nervous because I’d already sent her the finished track and she hadn’t replied to me for weeks. I had the record coming out and I really needed it to get sent to mastering. Eventually she did like the track, but I was really nervous because the vocals are fairly mangled.
Brian, I’ve known for years. He makes music as Anenon. He’s amazing. I already had that track done and I felt like there was a gap in frequencies that could use something else in it. Instead of doing a new synth layer, I felt like why not just give it to Brian and see what he does. Then he gave me a layer of drones and one layer of a riff that he came up with and I think I ended up doing very minimal work on what he sent me.
Lastly, how has living in Mexico City influenced you as an artist? and which artists or labels based in Mexico are you excited about at the moment?
DJing really gave me an opening into the broader community. I think the influence of Mexico has really just come about later through the dance music scene, which I think is really beautiful!
Infinite Machine is a sick label run by my good friend Charlie. Last year they put out an incredible EP by Benfika from Tijuana. Another cool label operating currently is Voragine. It showcases a number of artists and friends, Turning Torso, Viiaan, Practice. I first came across them through Terminal, which used to be one of my favourite clubs to play in the city.
Sietecatorce is now based in LA, but they run Subreal with Amazondotcom. Tomás Urquieta is Chilean but has been based in Mexico City for a while now. He recently put out an EP on Insurgentes, an exciting label from Medellín, Colombia run by Verraco.
Lastly, not an artist or label, but Radio Nopal is an amazing community radio project run out of the San Rafael neighbourhood, and for a while they were practically my neighbours. The programming is all over the place, from politics talk shows to music, with a strong bond to their immediate local community. It’s really heartening to see a space be functional without corporate support or ad revenue.
Nico’s mini-LP ‘Six Rooms’ is out now via Akita Club.
Grab it here.
Words: Freya Caldwell